This summer, I was honored to be invited by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to participate in the Senator Tommy Burks Victims Academy at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and speak about the importance of creating multidisciplinary trauma informed teams. The TBI asked me to speak after learning about Ballad Health’s work in developing trauma responsive practices throughout the Appalachian Highlands region of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
More than 70 victim advocates from around the state attended and enthusiastically responded to the benefits of creating these teams. By understanding the universal prevalence of trauma through data provided by SAMHSA and the states that are beginning to collect Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) information, we have learned most frontline providers are serving trauma survivors as clients. We recognize professionals in schools, law enforcement, advocacy programs, probation and parole, after-school programs, healthcare and more are likely to have trauma survivors regularly among those they aid.
Consider this: If you worked at an agency and were informed that 60-70% of those you served were hearing impaired, what kind of preparations would you and your staff make? Would it not make sense to hire staff skilled in sign language and use media with closed captioning? What if 60-70% of the people served by your organization arrived by a wheelchair or motorized scooter? You would be wise to prepare ahead of time by outfitting your facilities with handicap-accessible ramps and restrooms.
In the same way these advance preparations would be necessary for effective delivery of services, why should it not be best practice for organizations that encounter trauma survivors to become trauma informed? By providing ACEs and trauma informed care training, organizations can equip staff to recognize the physical, emotional and cognitive effects of trauma. Training will help staff understand how important it is for emotionally regulated professionals to work with emotionally deregulated students or clients.
In Johnson City, we have trained our trauma informed system of care partners how by understanding trauma, they can choose not to join in chaos of their clients, but instead, learn to share their calm with them. Services to trauma victims likely fall short when staff members don't understand the significance of ACEs, whether the organization implements actual screening tools or has conversational screening.
Our presentation at the Victims Academy included a class exercise using three case studies. Participants were asked to make a list of all the agencies that would be involved in assisting trauma survivors in each scenario. The first scenario was a domestic violence survivor with children, the second was a college student who was a rape survivor and the last was an 8-year-old child molested by individuals who frequented the home around drug activity. As participants made their lists, it was clear to see each of these cases could easily have eight to 10 different organizations as touch points for every victim. The list for each scenario also included both law enforcement and healthcare, which often are left out of community conversations on becoming trauma informed. However, what happens if all the involved agencies are never trained to recognize trauma and prepared with programming to address it? As a worst-case scenario, the uninformed services could re-traumatize individuals instead of facilitating healing and resilience, which are significant to recovery.
Since 2015, we have been training every imaginable kind of professional throughout Northeast Tennessee, with more than 5,000 people becoming trained. Moving to Ballad Health as their trauma informed administrator in November 2018, we are now extending this reach to cover all of the Appalachian Highlands. It is our goal, through training and coaching on trauma informed best practices, to saturate our region with trauma informed multidisciplinary teams, which will become recognized as best practice for effective service delivery to trauma survivors. In each of our trainings, we remind participants that they don't have to be a therapist to be therapeutic to trauma survivors. By greater empathy and understanding among a multidisciplinary team, we can bring healing to trauma survivors and become a more resilient Appalachian Highlands.